Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Christian Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Barbara Pemberton

Second Advisor

Dr. Tully Borland

Third Advisor

Mr. Drew Hampton

Abstract

For the indigenous peoples of Alaska, there is an ever-present tension between maintaining cultural identity and participating in the modern world. Like the indigenous peoples of most of the rest of the world, they have experienced colonization, subjugation, and appropriation by other cultures, starting with the arrival of Russians and improving but continuing with the transition from Russian control to American statehood. While the relationship between the United States and the indigenous peoples of Alaska has improved, the influence of other cultures on the First Nations peoples is undeniable, and they have been left to figure out how to identify and maintain the traditional aspects that remain.

The religious aspects ofthe tensions between traditional culture and adaptation are unique. Many of the indigenous peoples in Alaska have converted to various denominations of Christianity over the course of the last 300 years or so. As is typical, Christian missionary activity accompanied colonization. The result is a large number of indigenous Alaskans who practice Christianity, and interestingly, the way in which they practice Christianity has helped them to maintain certain cultural values that may have otherwise been deemphasized. There are, of course, also broad differences in religious belief and practice between traditional indigenous religion and Christianity, but the areas of overlap are remarkable and helped pave the way for the growth of Christianity among the northern First Nations peoples.

This thesis seeks to explore the way in which indigenous expressions of Christianity in Alaska help to promote and maintain certain native cultural values. The core value that will be explored is respect as expressed through beliefs and practices associated with community and the environment. While the main focus will be on the Inupiat people in particular, some research will reflect the general expression of Christianity throughout Alaska. This will be shown by exploring the transition of how respect is conceptualized and practiced from traditional Inupiaq religion to current indigenous Christianity, first through different aspects of belief regarding community, then through different aspects of belief regarding the environment. Generally speaking, the traditional conceptions are based on what was recorded by missionaries and settlers who first made contact as well as indigenous individuals who have maintained knowledge concerning native beliefs.

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